South Korea tightens border checks as domestic transmission of coronavirus abates

Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 17 March 2020

South Korea tightens border checks as domestic transmission of coronavirus abates

  • The stricter checks for all arrivals will start on Thursday
  • Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran

SEOUL: South Korea said on Tuesday it plans to tighten border checks for all arrivals from overseas to prevent new cases of coronavirus coming into the country at a time when domestically transmitted infections are subsiding.
The stricter checks for all arrivals will start on Thursday and come as China also stepped up monitoring of foreign travelers, in the latest sign of the pandemic’s shifting center of gravity from Asia to Europe.
“We’ve assessed that there’s a need for universal special entry procedures for all arrivals, given rapid increases in new cases not only in Europe but also in the United States and Asia in the wake of the pandemic,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 84 new coronavirus cases as of Tuesday. It was the third day in a row that the county has reported fewer than 100 new infections, raising hopes that Asia’s largest outbreak outside China may be easing.
The new numbers are well below a Feb. 29 peak of 909, and bring the country’s total infections to 8,320, the KCDC said. The death toll rose by two to 81.
There are 55 cases involving infected travelers, including eight foreign nationals, up from 44 recorded on Sunday. The other 47 are South Koreans, 27 of whom came from Europe, as well as 16 from China and another 12 from other Asian countries, KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook said.
Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran, requiring them to sign up by a smartphone application to track whether they have any symptoms such as fever.
Asked whether the government was considering closing borders, Kwon said the current efforts make a “very rational and reasonable policy for the time being.”
“It is much more important to stick to our fundamental efforts to find, quarantine and treat patients and examining links of infections,” he told reporters.
President Moon Jae-in has said he was increasingly confident South Korea would overcome the virus as the rate of new cases continued to drop.
Another 264 patients were released on Tuesday from hospitals where they had been isolated for treatment, bringing the total to 1,401, the KCDC said. South Korea reported more recoveries than new infections on Friday for the first time since its outbreak emerged in January.
Testing and treatment of patients is nearing completion in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, home to a fringe Christian church that was at the center of the outbreak in South Korea.
But authorities renewed warnings against clusters that continue to emerge, especially in the greater Seoul area.
The education ministry on Tuesday postponed the beginning of all schools’ new semester by another two weeks to April 6, citing concerns about infections in smaller clusters.
At least 134 cases have been linked to a Seoul-based call center whose 800-strong workforce is being tested or in quarantine.
In Seongnam, south of Seoul, 47 members of a Protestant church have tested positive, including the pastor, who attended services twice early this month despite government calls to cancel mass gatherings.
The vice health minister said people at the church had even rinsed their mouths using the same salt water sprayer in an ill-advised effort to disinfect themselves.
“That is an example of how misinformation could raise the risks of infection,” he said.
“Once again, we’re requesting the citizens to refrain from attending gatherings in enclosed space as much as possible.”


Philippines probes deadly police shooting of soldiers

Updated 02 July 2020

Philippines probes deadly police shooting of soldiers

  • Plainclothes soldiers were in pursuit of ‘bomb makers and suicide bombers’ from the Abu Sayyaf militant group

MANILA: Philippine authorities are investigating the deaths of four soldiers shot by police in the country’s restive south, with the defense minister vowing Thursday to “get to the bottom” of the incident.
The plainclothes soldiers were in pursuit of “bomb makers and suicide bombers” from the Abu Sayyaf militant group when they were attacked by police in the Muslim-majority province of Sulu on Monday, the army has said.
Army chief Gilbert Gapay has accused the nine officers involved of murdering the men, while Philippine National Police has described the shooting as a “misencounter.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the shootings were “a very unfortunate incident,” adding that the dead soldiers “were just doing their jobs.”
“We don’t want this to escalate. We will get to the bottom of this,” he said.
The country’s National Bureau of Investigation was probing the incident, and Lorenzana said the findings should be released soon.
The army has accused the police of firing on the soldiers even after they identified themselves as members of the military.
The officers have been detained while the investigation is under way, said Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano.
President Rodrigo Duterte will visit police and military commanders in the south, his spokesman Harry Roque said, without specifying when.
Abu Sayyaf is based in the south and has engaged in bombings as well as kidnappings of Western tourists and missionaries for ransom since the early 1990s.
They also have ties to Daesh militants seeking to set up a caliphate in Southeast Asia.